With the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, and President Trump’s scrapping of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty last August, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is now the last major nuclear arms treaty in force. Moscow has warned that a failure to renew the treaty could spark a new global arms race.

President Donald Trump has named Bush-era torture proponent and sanctions cheerleader Marshall Billingslea as his new special envoy on arms control, less than ten months ahead of the expiration of the New START treaty, the White House confirmed in a press statement on Friday.

Washington has dragged its feet on holding negotiations to extend the treaty, which will expire next February unless prolonged, with US officials suggesting that the treaty should be modified to accommodate Russia’s new hypersonic missile systems, and China’s nuclear arsenal. Moscow and Beijing have each rejected such proposals, although Russian officials have maintained their commitment to start talks immediately and without preconditions.

Billingslea, who currently serves as assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury, is a well-known advocate of expanding US sanctions against Russia, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, and other nations.

He has also courted controversy over his association with the Bush administration’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (i.e. torture) policies following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Trump reportedly tapped Billingslea for the arms talks envoy job in early March, after his nomination for undersecretary for civilian security democracy and human rights was stalled by lawmakers concerned over his torture record.

Lawmakers Slam Decision

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, slammed the White House over its decision to appoint Billingslea.

“Mr. Billingslea has a troubled history with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” Menendez said, his comments picked up by The Hill. “Following his unsuccessful nomination for the State Department’s top human rights post, serious questions remain concerning whether he was forthright and truthful when testifying before the committee about his role in the detainee torture scandal during the Bush administration.”

Last year, Amnesty International USA security director Daphne Eviatar claimed there was “ample evidence” to suggest that Billingslea “encouraged the use of interrogation methods that amount to torture or other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment while he served in the Bush Administration.”

Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association, a US-based nonprofit, has pointed to Billingslea’s work for former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, a vocal opponent of arms control whose senate career goes back to the 1970s.

Pointing to the empty vacancies for the posts of secretary of state for arms control and international security, and assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, which remain unfilled as they require congressional approval, Senator Menendez suggested that Billingslea was not the person “who should be put in charge  of our nuclear diplomacy.”

“If the administration is truly serious about pursuing an effective arms control agenda, it should reverse course and nominate qualified individuals for the critical unfilled senior arms control positions at the State Department” instead, he added.

Time Running Out for New START

The New Start arms control treaty, which caps the nuclear superpowers’ deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550 apiece, and limits deployed missiles and bombers to 700 units, will expire in February 2021 unless Russia and the US agree to renew it. Moscow has repeatedly expressed readiness to start negotiations immediately, stressing the treaty’s importance to preserving global strategic stability. Late last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that failure to renew the treaty may result in a new global arms race.